665 + 1

  October again.  Time for horror short stories!  I'm going to give you at least two this year, and I'm shooting for a third, but we'll have to see how much my muse is willing to dance with me, and how freaking lazy I'll be.  The next one'll be bigger and should be up in a week or so, but this weird little thing is meant as an appetizer 'til then.

First, a reminder of things past so if you like this one, you'll be able to find more.  Or, if you hate this one,  which is certainly possible, you'll be able to find a better one.   So, here's The Mighty Blowhole Anthology Of Short Horror Fiction Table of Contents:

My stuff:

This one's odd.  Lots of references to factual things mixed in (with what's probably terrible taste on my part, but it's horror fiction, dude, sometimes you gotta go there), and you could research them on your own but I can't swear that'd be good for you.  It's not my usual kind of narrative thing, but it's short so maybe it won't be too painful.

Maybe you won't even feel it...




                                           665 + 1

    Here we are, all clinging to a ball of mud, living eyeblink lives on a particle still flying outward from an explosion so incomprehensibly violent and enormous that it's taking trillions of years to complete.  Our molten fleck cooled, still spherical from surface tension as all droplets are, and became inhabitable as it drifted around one of the many specks of debris that was still burning, like an electron circling a nucleus.  It all seems so vast to self-important, self-referential little us, but in reality we're no more than germs consuming a moldy crumb on the universe's tabletop.

    So when you think about it, it doesn't really matter so much that I killed Dorothy.   I sliced her throat so deeply with a razor that her head is quite loose and hanging horribly (it'd give you nightmares to even see the shadow it's casting) and I took her blood and eyes and baby.   Well, most of the blood.  There was so much around.   I painted a pentagram on the wall with some of it, just to make it fun.

    Her soul fled rapidly from her sorrowful flesh and was doubtless grateful to be gone after the things I did to it, which were the worst things I've ever done.  But not the worst thing I'll ever do;  that will come in a few minutes.

    Ah, Dorothy.   She was perky!   Wanted to be called "Dot," even though she was far too young to be a "Dot."  Really, "Dot."  If she really thought about it beyond its "cuteness" -- which I doubt -- one could guess that she embraced her own insignificance, at least subliminally.

    "Dot."  If she'd lived, she'd only have grown to become like that tiresome friend of your aunt's.

    Not such a crime when you put it into perspective, and consider what I can gain from it.

    And what I can gain is everything.  I have a chance to step out of all of it -- the eyeblink of time, the crumb on the tabletop, all of it.

    I sense confusion, but I can explain it all. 

    Perhaps the thing from the Bible that's most prevalent in our popular culture is from Revelations 13:18, even though no one really understands it.  Six hundred and sixty-six, the number of the beast.  There are countless movies about it, countless songs... even if your theological knowledge is scant, you know of six-six-six. 

    What fun, but what does it really mean?  No one seems to understand what's being counted.   Except me.  I figured it out.  I am him who hath understanding.  And it's not a warning, or a prophecy; it's a set of instructions.

    Six hundred and sixty-six is the number of infernal objects one must collect to become this beast, and be given immense power and  all of eternity in which to wield it.  And, thus, I'm a collector.

    When I say "objects," that's not precisely what I mean.  Some objects of lesser true evil are needed in greater number.   My collection of black metal recordings, for instance, is large, but I only count it as a single object.   As hard as it is to find original Hellhammer vinyl now, Abruptum's Evil Genius (including the razor blade that came packed inside for purposes of self-mutilation... and mine had been used, ha!) or Mayhem's Dawn of the Black Hearts with their singer Dead's gruesome suicide photo on the cover (Google that one sometime for a real treat!), I count it all as part of a whole.  The black metal genre lead many souls to Satan (mine included), but it did it as a collective;  a soul captured and condemned to eternal torments would, of course, count as a whole object (the most magnificently splendid one, in fact!), but since black metal is easy to obtain, compared to many things I've acquired, I count the pile of LP's, CD's, and tapes as one object, a collection within the larger collection.

    There are other black metal related objects with greater evil power, though, and those I count as a singular object.  You wouldn't believe what I had to do to track down a shard of Dead's skull, even though his guitarist Euronymous mailed many around the underground.  Or the blood-stiffened "I (heart-with-a-stake-through-it) Transylvania" tee-shirt he was wearing when they found him, or strands of his hair?  Or the knife Varg Vikernes later used to kill Euronymous?  Those are major finds.   I also have blackened nails and charred wood from Fantoff Stave Church, and Holmenkollen Chapel, Skjold, Asane, Revheim, and Hauketo, all victims of the black-metal church arsons in the 1990's.   I have the jaw from a pig used at an early Mayhem show, still greasy with fat and stinking abominably (Dead would love it!)

    Music's but a small corner of the museum, though.  I've collected Aleister Crowley manuscripts and wax cylinders of his voice, doing rituals.  I have letters from Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Richard Ramirez (those were easy enough to obtain, you could hardly shut that chatterbox up!).   There are the bones of a sacrificed baby (though I wasn't involved in that; as I told you, killing "Dot" is the worst thing I've done), and the skulls of three serial killers whose names you would know, and the ashes of another.   I have sharpened teeth from the grave of a 17th century Prussian "vampire," black cat bones owned by a witch who was burned in Germany, and some of Ed Gein's craftwork (which I can vouch is similar to certain Nazi art).  I have some of Albert Fish's needles, recovered during the autopsy.  Surely you guessed someone would have saved those, right?

    I have the diary of a sufferer of Cotard's Syndrome that would sour your mind like old milk were you to read it.  The anguish of someone who believed that their blood was putrid and organs turned to soil... it's simply not meant to be read.  Even I lost sleep over it.

    I've had to travel the world at great expense and greater risk to procure this collection.  I've been at it for decades, a lot of time, but not even a fraction of the eternal life it will earn me. I've had to befriend horrible people and bribe police to get murder weapons and fatal bullets (and a clotted chain of a chainsaw from a notorious "unsolved").  I've had to gain the confidence of serial killers so they'd give me locations of unrecovered remains.  I was extremely lucky to get some from a member of the Hand of Death cult; two days after I dug them up Hurricane Katrina washed the site away!

    I've financed all of this by taking big gambles on the stock market.   Or, so they seemed, at least.  I confess they weren't really gambles; my "luck" was via Ouija board, from a source that's better than E. F. Hutton!   Believe me, Satan knows the stock market!

    There is much interesting esoterica.   A guitar string of Robert Johnson's; there was something to that story about the  crossroad deal, it turns out.  There's a chain from the LaLaurie house in New Orleans.   A Mayan dagger that harvested countless hearts for Quetzalcoatl.  People argue over the existence of snuff films, but I don't need to -- I have over a dozen.  I don't like to watch them, but they're there;  I'm looking at the box I keep them in even as I type this.   There are various murder weapons -- a deformed hammer, a couple of hatchets, a steam iron, a machete.   Grape Flavor-Aid packets left over from Jonestown (getting those was a tale in itself!).  A hammer from the infamous Dyatlov incident.   A head from one of LaVey's androids.

    You may think I'm morbid, collecting such things, but I assure you, it's more a case of the one I'm trying to please being morbid.  And why not?   His home has seas of slugs, oceans of rats, a sky of flies and lakes of rotten blood.   His friends and agents are invisible things more horrible than anything you could see, and they're all crazed to get out and force themselves into your body for warmth.  Once there, they will lodge and suck like a tick or tumor.  I know it all sounds crazy, but soon they'll all be here and this miserable world will finally get what it truly deserves.

    For, you see, I've almost completed my collection.   Dear Dotty served as the six-hundred and sixty-fifth item, earlier tonight.   And I'll have the final item I need in just a few short minutes. 

    I knew I was close when the powers that be left me find a certain book, just last week.  It was buried in the ruins of an old abbey of such horrifying reputation that only I (in my desperation) dared go there.   And though I cannot read it -- it might as well be pages of black thorns, written in an insane scratchy language no one speaks -- it is undeniably an object of monumental evil.   It's terrifying to even have it in the house.   Scattered throughout are passages written in our letters, but they're nonsense.  Mind-injuring absurdity.   For example, there's


    You think it looks funny, you should hear it!  Try speaking it, your throat will make noises you can't help but find humorous!   And aloud, it almost makes sense, like it's tickling at being a sentence you could almost recognize if your mind would only stop rejecting it.

    In any case, somehow this book (whose smell is indescribable and intoxicating -- it's vile but I'm still driven to want to eat it!) told me what to do to Dorothy.   I'd wondered why I formed a relationship with her almost a year ago, when I never was particular to her type.  Honestly, I never much cared for the silly woman and yet I still made the effort to romance and then maintain her and never knew why until that book opened the door in my mind to a room full of pictures that showed me what to do.

    Yes, she was 665.   Out of the 666 which are now complete, thanks to you!

    Oh, you didn't know?   I thought perhaps you'd feel it when you read that absurd passage back there.  Some emptiness, some loss?  Maybe a touch of cold?  Surely there was some discomfort.  I've never been through it myself, but I can't imagine it goes without creating some odd sensation, some uprooting.

    Anyway, now I have all that I need and can ascend from this world which, by tomorrow, will be an indescribably fetid nightmare of atrocity and obscenity.  Nothing like what awaits you, of course, after reading that infernal line.

    In any case, my dear reader, you have provided me with the one most magnificently splendid item I was missing, and for this you have my apology, and my eternal gratitude!

                                                                      THE END

(c) copyright 2015 by me


Do Something.

I usually write about music, movies, and horror fiction for this blog, but today I want to do something different. Here's an observation following yet another mass shooting, this one yesterday at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

In the wake of the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, one issue that got too little attention was prevention. The shuttle’s reinforced-carbon-carbon (RCC) tiles, which provided excellent heat protection but little structural stability, had been breached by a piece of spray-on foam insulation (SOFI – the orange stuff on the outside of the massive external fuel tank). Some engineers and analysts suspected this breach because they had grainy video footage of an object striking an RCC-clad area during the launch, but they had no proof that any breach existed.

Why didn’t they have any proof? First, the aforementioned video's angle did not allow for a view of the RCC tiles. Second, Columbia was one of the few shuttles in the fleet at that time with no robotic camera arm, meaning the crew and mission control had no autonomous way to view the shuttle’s wing and inspect it for damage. (Post-Columbia, of course, such arms became mandatory.) Third, the engineers and analysts involved had run a staggering amount of analysis on strike probability and, as a result, were concerned enough that they made two requests in an attempt to ascertain any wing or belly damage:

1. They asked the Department of Defense for satellite imagery of Columbia in orbit. This request, however, did not follow the proper NASA chain of command and was canceled (without follow-up) by a manager.

2. They emailed a specific NASA person requesting that one of the Columbia crew perform a spacewalk so they could inspect for damage up close. Unfortunately, that person was on vacation and did not see the request until s/he returned from vacation a few days after Columbia’s disastrous attempted reentry.

One logical question, then, that arose during the post-disaster investigation was, “If we had known the extent of the damage before reentry, could we have done anything to save the crew?” Experts’ responses then and now differ on this point. While bailing out or ejecting was impossible – crews could only bail out below 30,000 feet and 220 mph; Columbia, by comparison, broke up at 200,000 feet and 12,738 mph – some say there were at least two potential options:

1. Space shuttle Atlantis was already preparing for the next mission, and NASA could have rushed this preparation and essentially sent Atlantis on a rescue operation.

2. NASA could have had some of the Columbia crew do a spacewalk to “patch” the hole in the wing using quite literally anything at their disposal (tools, bags of ice, pieces of interior components, etc.) to put some mass in the hole and deflect the superheated plasma produced during the thermal violence of reentry.

Even proponents of these options conceded their odds of success were low to middling. No one, for instance, would have been able to guarantee that Atlantis would be ready in time, but, even if they could, because foam strikes had been a documented problem since the dawn of the shuttle program, using another shuttle for rescue meant the chance, however remote, of grievously damaging a second shuttle and imperiling the lives of 14 astronauts instead of 7. Opponents, meanwhile, had a predictably simpler response: “There are no viable options. It can’t be saved.” Some of those opponents are people I respect professionally, and I’m inclined to believe their prognosis, dire as it was.

But that dissenting stance, no matter how rooted in scientific limitations, is not only pessimistic but also wholly divorced from reality. Does anyone with a developed brain stem truly believe that NASA and the entire United States, had they possessed photographic evidence of a hole in Columbia’s wing that would have led to the shuttle’s disintegration and 7 human deaths on atmospheric reentry, would have sat on their hands and said, “Well, it’s a tragedy, but we have no good options. We’ll just have to let them die”? Of course not. As the chair of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), Retired Navy Admiral Hal Gehman, said simply when discussing this very issue, “No. We would have done SOMETHING.”

If we knew a disaster was imminent, even with no good options, we would have done SOMETHING.

The epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings in this country is a similar situation. It doesn’t matter that people, not guns, are said to kill people (mental illness IS an enormous driver in this issue, but we don't do anything about that either). It doesn’t matter that the 2nd Amendment’s wording is unclear enough to allow for distortion and the loophole of individual-gun ownership. It doesn’t matter that "guns are just a part of American culture." It doesn’t matter that gun manufacturing and ownership are a Pandora’s Box that would be hell to try and close. It doesn’t matter that the gun lobby is massively wealthy and massively influential and, therefore, massively corrupting to a representative democracy. It doesn’t matter that owning a Glock or an AR-15 makes you sleep better at night because you’re worried about (nonwhite) criminals and/or the prospect of a tyrannical government. It doesn’t matter that your daddy/momma/pop-pop/meemaw/crazy uncle/3rd-cousin-twice-removed always loved guns and passed that love on to you. It doesn’t matter that you’re embarrassingly awful at logic and cannot/refuse to see that guns and automobiles (or other objects) do not in any way make a valid comparison. It doesn’t matter that you say you’ll hand over your guns when they’re pried from your cold, dead hands. None of that matters.

The only thing that matters is people are dying, whole lives and families ruined forever, because unstable people obtain and use guns very, very easily while we, en masse, invariably say, “Well, it’s a tragedy, but we have no good options. We’ll just have to let them die.”

It doesn't matter if we seem to have few good options. We have to do something. Nothing else matters but actually fucking doing something.


The Holy Wacken Land

OK, I think I’m ready to talk about Wacken now. Be forewarned that this is long and densely detailed, and whatever you think I’m going to say, you’re probably wrong.

Three things got in the way of my Wacken planning:

1. Festival tickets sold out in 10 hours, six months before the festival and months before I even knew for sure I’d be in the neighborhood (the Study Abroad program I'm leading and its attendant class had to “make”).

2. Hotel/hostel/b&b accommodations within a 50-mile radius got snapped up quickly as well.

3. Likewise, Wacken’s camping rentals (tents, sleeping bags, mats, etc.) were already all gone, meaning I’d have nowhere practical to stay during the three-day event (Wacken is seven to eight hours away from Munich by train).

Add to this the fact that aftermarket tickets were running 200 euros and up (face value: 160 euros) on various StubHub-like sites, and I was forced to put Wacken on the backburner until I (a) got settled in Munich and saw what I’d be able to manage schedule-wise, and (b) figured out where I could stay during the festival.

Eventually, after I’d learned about the Eurail Pass (which is wonderful) and traveled for a few weekends, aftermarket-ticket prices came down, and I bought one on viagogo from a UK seller for 78 pounds, which came out to about $122 (around 50 euros lower than face value). I still had no leads on accommodations, but I told myself something would come up.

Then it started raining in north Germany. Really, really, apocalyptically raining. I’m about as much of an “outdoorsman” as Tim Gunn probably is, so I immediately started thinking I would have to bail on this festival, a thought process spurred along by the more important reality that my ticket hadn’t arrived yet. There were no e-ticket/print-at-home options available, so I had it sent to my aparthotel in Munich. Attempting to track my ticket order on viagogo’s site merely took me to my order-confirmation page, which stated that event tickets were typically released the week of the event, I could expect to receive my ticket two to three days before the event started, and I would get an email when my ticket had shipped.

Several days before Wacken began, I emailed viagogo’s customer-service department, explaining my concern at the lack of a confirmation email/ticket and was automatically informed I would get a reply within 24 hours. None came.

The day before Wacken started, I tried to track my ticket again and saw a new message beneath the old one: “CANCELLED: Your order has been cancelled. You will not be charged.” Well, I had already been charged, so I sent viagogo another email asking what the hell. No reply. Later that day, I found a phone number for viagogo (this number was indescribably hard to find) and explained to their representative all that had transpired, and I will sheepishly admit that I secretly hoped she would say, “Yes, we’re sorry, but your order was cancelled for [insert reason]. We will refund your money in [insert unreasonably long period of time].” All signs seemed to be pointing to STAY IN MUNICH, DUDE (or GO TO SWITZERLAND, DUDE, etc.), especially the unstoppable rain, which was bad enough that the Wacken organizers had begun sending dire pleadings through their festival app urging metalheads not to show up early (still prepping the site), not to drive their own cars in favor of public transport (saturated parking areas), and so on. Faced with all this, I had all but decided Wacken Open Air 2015 was not to be for me.

But then the viagogo rep came back on the line and said (a) yes, my original order was cancelled because the seller had backed out (or something), but (b) viagogo had found a replacement seller, and though this ticket was more expensive, the additional cost would not be passed on to me, so (c) I would be getting a confirmation/tracking email later that day for the replacement ticket that was guaranteed to arrive by the event’s start date (“tomorrow” in this timeline). My reply was something akin to, “Oh. Um…wow, OK, yeah, great, thank you so much. Yay.” I didn’t really believe that the ticket would get here that soon, so I began fashioning my argument for a refund: I was guaranteed to get my ticket before the event started, the original order’s botchedness wasn’t my fault, just what kind of business are you running here, etc. And this lasted until my phone rang perhaps 20 minutes later – it was the same viagogo rep as before, informing me my ticket had already arrived at my aparthotel, been signed for by one of the staff, and was waiting on me (I was still on campus at the time). “Wow, OK, yeah, great, thank you so much. Yay again.” I didn’t believe this either (non-hope ALSO springs eternal), but when I got to my room, there the ticket was.

Why wasn’t I elated? I’m a lifelong metal fan, and Wacken is the biggest metal festival in the world. The only act there I desperately wanted to see was Uli Jon Roth, former Scorpions member and one of the greatest guitarists ever, but he was playing Wednesday night (before the festival technically started – yeah, I don’t understand it either), and I had a Study Abroad-related function then that I simply could not reschedule; it had been set up by my Hochschule München contacts months in advance, and I didn’t think it professional or ethical to juggle such an event for a conflict about which I was conflicted anyway. Nevertheless, going meant the chance to see Judas Priest, Rob Zombie, Black Label Society, Armored Saint, Savatage, Cannibal Corpse, Death Angel, and a handful of others I recognized/somewhat dug, so I should have wanted to go. Why didn’t I? Here’s another enumerated list:

1. I was tired. On the day I would have left for Wacken, I had been in Europe for almost four weeks, and, in addition to the stress of navigating a new place and supervising 13 college students alone for all that time, I had also traveled to other countries every previous weekend since coming to Munich: Austria, France, the Netherlands. (Understand that when I say “stress,” I’m not in the least bit complaining. This trip has been magical, but living in a foreign city largely on my own for weeks requires more of my physical and emotional energy than being at home.)

2. I have serious OCD tendencies. The disarray and lack of control provided by a three-day music festival would be a major test of my personality even in dry/drier conditions, but adding acres upon acres of wet and muddy ground to the mix was a mental nightmare that, even beforehand, took an enormous amount of my aforementioned energy to counter.

Yet, ironically, both of these are also the reasons I ended up going not just to Wacken but to the countries I’ve already listed. As each of those prior weekends approached, I warred with my sedentary habits: “Yes, I know chilling in your Munich hotel room with the odd city excursion sounds awesome, but you’re in Europe. You can sit at home. Fun is knocking. Answer the damn door.” So I did. Salzburg and Vienna were wonderful. Paris was fun. Amsterdam was incredible. Wacken, I reasoned, would be at least one of those things, too.

Armed with hiking boots, an Eno hammock borrowed from a student, a camping fleece, and three days’ worth of bare essentials, I set off, arriving in Itzehoe (the nearest sizable town to Wacken) at around 10:30 p.m. Thursday night. The festival itself had officially been underway for about 12 hours (again, cool stuff happened Wednesday night, but it was apparently unofficial – WTF?), though I’d still have music to hear until around 1:00 a.m. and then all day Friday-Saturday. Excitement finally began to set in.

The first tangible sign that I might be in over my head was the mud. When the Wacken shuttle arrived in Itzehoe, throngs of people done for the day got out, all of them muddy from roughly the calves down. They were happy, though, shouting “VAHCKEN!” and throwing devil horns, which gladdened me. On the shuttle’s numerous stops en route to the festival grounds, however, I was greeted by new riders who, unlike me, had not packed light. They looked like people going to tailgate: wheeled crates and wagons loaded down with BBQ grills, lawn chairs, sleeping mats, big tents, cases of water, cases of beer, etc. “I’m doing this wrong,” I said to myself. Nevertheless, I was committed: three days outside my comfort zone, and then I’d be back in my four-week-old Munich routine. I wished for a beer.

The second tangible sign I was in over my head was the mud. When the shuttle got to the festival site, we debussed and started walking toward the gates. I could see very serious stagelights. I could hear a very serious metallic roar. My blood started pumping. I smiled. I wished again for a beer.

Then we stepped off the shuttle stop’s gravel – its sweet, solid, mostly dry, mostly non-displacing gravel – into what I can only describe as the Diarrhea of the Earth. The festival ground proper, and mainly the wide pathways where we walked, was a river of four-to-six-inch-deep mud. I can’t adequately stress the extent to which I’m not exaggerating. Imagine Venice, and then replace its canals’ water with viscous mud, and you have some idea of what we walked in. You could feel our communal barometric pressure drop the second we stepped into the mud, like all the metallic joy was being squelched out through our feet. “Holy shit,” I said involuntarily. “Ah, Schiesse,” several people around me said, I assume also involuntarily.

I don’t know how far it was from that drop-off point to the wristband kiosk, but it felt like miles/kilometers, though this may simply have been the fact that every step dropped me four to six inches into an Earth that then tried to keep my feet for itself. And, of course, the terrain wasn’t level, so some steps stayed relatively close to the surface (wherever that was), and some dropped more than six inches. I had bought hiking boots that day, rightly thinking that the Asics I wear as walking shoes would not suffice. What I actually needed were hip-waders.

Have I mentioned my OCD tendencies, that I am a neat freak, that I dislike being dirty? You know the “Bring out your dead!” scene in Holy Grail where you see peasants literally rolling around in the medieval mud? That scene kept flashing before my eyes in Wacken, and for the first time ever, it wasn’t funny at all.

I kept walking, not wanting to look foolish or uncertain (ha ha, I know right, as if), hoping that firmer ground lay just ahead. It did, occasionally, only to be quickly replaced by more Earthly Diarrhea. Along the way, I noticed two critical things:

1. The camping grounds were, smartly, more elevated than the Diarrheal Plain. They had grass, and they were also 100% covered by tents, campers, RVs, and the odd car. I didn’t have a tarp and/or tent anyway, but even if I had, there was nowhere to put it.

2. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no trees anywhere inside the grounds, meaning I had little to no chance of using the hammock I brought within the festival site. The nearest trees were outside the fences and not at all easy to get to.

Thus, even while I was trudging along, ankle- to calf-deep in dirt soup, anxious to find some solid ground and be near a stage (and still wishing for a beer), I realized that I had nowhere to sit or sleep. Hell, I didn’t even have anywhere to put my backpack that wasn’t a wet picnic table or beery countertop. “I’m doing this wrong,” I said to myself, not for the last time.

Regardless, I kept my chin up (after every third or fourth step) and took in the atmosphere. People, tattoos, black-metal t-shirts, flaming bullhead logos, patch-laden denim jackets, people, ax-throwing contests, beer, smoke, nonstop music from every direction, more people. I bought a badass Hammer Burger from one of the many food vendors and chatted with a kind and shirtless German. I finally got that beer, a Beck’s (official beer of Wacken) that paled pathetically in comparison with all the Helles and Weissbier I’d had over the preceding weeks but which still tasted better than it had any right to. I heard Trans-Siberian Orchestra playing with Savatage and saw their insane light show. Despite my misgivings, I was doing it. This was happening.

It was late, though, and soon the throngs started to disperse. People trudged back to their tents or headed for the exits, so I headed that way too. My plan was to either find a hammock spot in the trees outside the fences or catch the shuttle back to Itzehoe and figure something out, even if it meant going to Hamburg (the nearest city) and paying too much for a hotel room. I also found comfort in the notion that I could simply leave the festival and not return; pride prevented me from truly wanting to do this, but the option existed.

And then I fell down.

I had almost fallen several times – teetering was unavoidable given the shifting ground – and I had seen several people go down on a knee or stagger sideways and finally go “plop.” But I was doing OK, and I didn’t think it would happen to me......until I wasn’t, and it did.

There was no cause other than the mud. I wasn’t in a big crowd of people when it happened, so no one bumped me or anything. I was just walking toward the exits and preparing to choose one of my options for the night when I evidently stepped into a particularly uneven spot. My balance disappeared, I swayed backward and swung my arms to counteract the motion, but it wasn’t enough, and I fell back onto my ass. (This is not a figure of speech – I. FELL. ON. MY. ASS.) “Ha ha!” I blurted automatically, instinctively trying to distance myself from embarrassment via self-effacement, but it didn’t matter because no one was nearby and no one was paying attention. I put my hands into the mud to foist myself up, got into a crouch, and was in the process of standing when I fell again, this time to my right, knee and hands into the mud. I got up more quickly and was able to stand flat-footed, and I immediately started moving forward to look for a wash-up area. Not finding one any time soon, a security guard poured water out of a bottle over my hands so I could remove the worst of the muck (my hands were so covered they were twice their normal size, and I already have big hands). Thanking her profusely for this kindness, I walked away, my options for the evening and weekend sorted: covered in mud from my thighs down, with nowhere to get firm-footed and unmuddy and regrouped for the next day, I was going to catch the shuttle back to Itzehoe and return to Munich. I reached for my phone to check the time and use some of my international data to look up train schedules.

The hip pocket where I keep my phone was empty.

I stuck my hand into my hip pocket over and over, willing it to appear. I slapped the Velcro pocket further down my leg. Empty. I slapped all my pockets, front and back. My left Velcro pocket had my money (thank Dio), but nothing else.

My phone was gone.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god,” I said breathlessly, realizing instantly what had happened. My fall had been at the perfect angle and force to eject my phone from its pocket, and because my hands were so muddy from the fall, and because my brain had been consumed with standing up out of the godforsaken mud, I hadn’t thought to ensure that my phone was still there until this moment. This terrible, nauseating, oh-my-god moment.

(Side note: I love my phone. I am a bona fide iPhone addict, never without it and rarely not looking at it. I’ve literally had dreams of losing my phone, of dropping and damaging it horribly, of being separated from it while surrounded by people who did not treat my loss with the proper urgency. None of these dreams involved losing my precious to the Earthly Diarrhea, which is why I don’t refer to them above as “nightmares.” THIS was the nightmare.)

I kept patting my pockets and staring around at the cruel mud, trying to calm the lightning storm of panic in my brain. Soon I retraced my steps and found the spot where I’d fallen, all the while looking everywhere for a glint of phone screen. Several very nice people recognized my plight (bent over, peering intently at the ground), sympathized with me, and helped me look. One guy even gave me his keychain flashlight to aid my search, and I know that I will keep that flashlight forever. I asked security guards if any phones had been turned in; none had. I probably searched for about an hour before realizing (a) I would never find my phone in all that mud – it had fallen and sunk and would likely not be found until preparations for next year’s Wacken, if then; and (b) even if I had found my phone, it would have been very far beyond repair, not only water damaged but unspeakably dirty – no one would be able to rehabilitate that thing, certainly not in the Holy Wacken Land (that’s what it’s called on the festival map, which is cool). My phone was also passcode/fingerprint-protected, which provided some illogical comfort.

So I left. I trudged to the shuttle stop, waited about 10 minutes for the shuttle to arrive, and then I boarded it, only to wait another 45 minutes before we left, presumably to ensure we’d captured enough interested riders. When we got back to the Itzehoe station, I made a beeline for the men’s room, which was empty but splattered with brown foulness, as though some poor creature had recently suffered from a particularly violent gastric ailment in there. I had hoped to use the sink to wash myself off, but it was brimming with dirty water. I went into the stall – it was somehow not as bad as the rest of the bathroom – and used the baby wipes I’d wisely bought pre-Wacken to clean myself off as best I could. I put my disgusting clothes in one of the plastic grocery bags I’d brought, and I put that bag inside a larger department-store bag with my even more disgusting hiking boots. I put on clean clothes and shoes and wiped down with baby wipes again, and then I used the ticket machine to find the next available train south, which was to depart at 4:49 a.m. It was 4:15 a.m. I had been at Wacken (or in its vicinity) for only six hours, and already I was about to leave.

Recall my refrain: “I’m doing this wrong.” What should I have done, then? Here’s yet another enumerated list.

1. Not go at all. I had used the aw-get-outside-your-comfort-zone-John tactic several times on consecutive weekends to good effect, but this weekend I pushed it too far. I probably – not definitely, but probably – should have listened to my instincts and not gone in the first place. After three consecutive out-of-country trips, I needed to not travel. It’s even possible that I’m just not cut out for multi-day music festivals, but I’m not ready to say that yet.

2. Commit earlier. If I was going to go, I should have committed to it well before I did and prepared more thoroughly. This one is a no-brainer and is also inextricably linked with…

3. Secure accommodations early. Even the festival ticket itself is less important than having a home base. Book a hotel room, reserve a hostel bed, get to the festival grounds as early as possible to claim a camping spot, whatever – just don’t restrict yourself to walking around with all your gear without a place to rest. Because, you know, you might fall down. In the mud.

Interestingly, I packed my Mötörhead t-shirt to wear at the festival, and probably every day of the festival, but I didn’t put it on until I was changing in the train-station bathroom because I had been saving it for daylight and my two full days of metal nirvana. Better late than never.

You know what shirt I had on, though, through all these shenanigans? The one that has a stick figure strumming a guitar above the phrase “Life is good.”

I agree.


The New Heavy Steamrock Style, Quite Different and Strange

A movie, a book, AND music – I’m just a goddamned Renaissance man!

The Babadook (2014) – Amelia, a widowed single mother who struggles to raise her energetic (manic? ADHD? spazzy?) son Samuel, really begins to struggle after he discovers a sinister pop-up book called The Babadook. At first, Samuel acts as though he can see the titular monster, whom he also blames for his essentially nonstop mischief. But then Amelia starts sensing and seeing the Babadook herself, which, of course, is when things truly get hectic. I was intrigued by this film’s potential from the first time I saw the trailer, and I’m happy to say it more than lived up to the hype for me. It can’t be easy to make a believable/effective movie centered on a paper storybook monster who comes to life, but thankfully writer-director Jennifer Kent gets a lot of mileage out of shadowy camera angles and the ol’ scarier-unseen-than-seen motif, so you usually just catch very, very creepy glimpses of the Babadook (or, even better, you just hear his creakiness). This film’s main strength, though, is its indie/art-house nature: Causeway Films/IFC Films, $2 million budget, set and filmed in Australia, largely unknown actors, etc. Were this a bigger-budget flick – or, heaven forbid, if it ever becomes one as a remake – it would bludgeon you to death rather than crawl inside your orifices and give you an exhilarating, short-lived virus. And this is not about mere aesthetics, because at the core of The Babadook is a poignant, apt metaphor for loss, grief, and the always-tenuous relationship survivors have with both: Amelia, you see, became a widow when her husband died in a car accident while driving her to the hospital for Samuel’s birth, a horrific event with which both mother and son constantly struggle. In a movie where a piece of paper comes to life and terrorizes a family, this metaphor’s effectiveness depends on subtlety and suggestion (e.g., the film’s final five minutes), and those are traits for which bigger-budget projects are not generally known. Highly, highly recommended.

Banquet for the Damned (2004) – One of the recurring problems I have with horror fiction is its chronic inability to conclude satisfactorily. It’s possible this is my own problem as a reader: I read slowly and meticulously, which can be good, of course, but it can also lead to overthinking and overanalysis. Anyway, it’s not as if this problem is a dealbreaker – I like most of the books that fall into this category. It’s just that the endings too often don’t live up to the quality of what came before. This is true even of authors whose books I adore, like Adam Nevill. In fact, it’s probably because of him that I’m griping like this, for his two masterpieces, The Ritual and Last Days each among the best books I’ve ever read, period manage to accomplish that rare feat of a satisfying ending. Blog-brother Zwolf has written pitch-perfect reviews of these books (linked above) as well as Nevill’s more recent House of Small Shadows, a book that fits my grouchy profile here: excellent, intriguing story overall; scares and suffocating creepiness in a generous number of scenes; unfulfilling conclusion. Whereas I reread Ritual and Last Days because I had to dive in again (I’ve read each three times now), I reread House of Small Shadows because I thought I missed something crucial that left the end wanting. Alas, I didn’t.

I had a similar experience with Nevill’s Banquet for the Damned, which I also recently reread. In it, Dante and Tom, veterans of the Birmingham (UK) music scene and members of the unfortunately-if-authentically-named Sister Morphine, move to St. Andrews in Scotland so Dante can work under the tutelage of Professor Eliot Coldwell and compose a concept album based on Coldwell’s infamous book Banquet for the Damned (they’re also leaving B’ham for personal and music-scene-related reasons, but these are largely backburner context). Coldwell turns out to be a cryptic, musty, hunched-over shell of his former self instead of the more-approachable Crowley-Leary-LaVey for whom Dante seems to pine, so it’s hardly surprising when Coldwell’s actual motives turn out to be far more sinister than first appearances indicated. Dante is introduced to a fellow Coldwell acolyte named Beth whose frigid sexiness and penchant for literally biting Dante’s lips bloody both entrance and frighten him; he and Tom hear not-all-that-distant screams at night and discover a freshly ripped-off arm while walking the beach; and the local university’s administrators keep giving Dante ambiguous but obviously dire advice about dealing with Coldwell and/or getting the fuck out of Scotland entirely. The other plotline involves an American anthropologist named Hart Miller who’s in St. Andrews to investigate a string of night-terror-related deaths that may involve Coldwell’s book and his semi-secret rituals with students. Hart’s an obvious archetype – unruly red beard, perpetually unkempt appearance, 24/7 drinking, mellow-dude catchphrase (he answers the phone, “Hey now, this is Hart Miller”), Deadhead flashbacks – but he’s drawn lovingly and well, and his internal reminiscences about night-terror research in Africa and the South Pacific are among the book’s most fascinating passages. These reminiscences also set us up for the two main characters' eventual meeting after Dante’s pal Tom evidently becomes a blood sacrifice, and their meeting naturally brings about the novel’s climax.

Now, Nevill is a master at creating scenes/chapters so vivid and scary they haunt you long after the book is over: from Ritual, the unbearable early dream foreshadowing the characters’ fate and the horrifying moment later on when Luke realizes who the old woman is and what her “singing” is for; from Last Days, the filmmakers’ visit to the cult’s French compound and the absolute-genius hotel-room scene Zwolf mentions in his review; from Small Shadows, the waving beekeeper and the truly nightmarish pageant to which Catherine is subjected late in the book; and so on. Banquet has more than its share of riveting scenes like this. The first tangible appearance of the ancient evil Coldwell has summoned involves the final moments of one of the night-terror-afflicted students in his apartment, and it is terrifying. Dante’s initial interaction with Beth, which also indicates early on that all is not right with this Coldwell collaboration, skillfully balances dialogue, exposition, spooky atmospherics, and nearly-visible horror in a way many other writers can only feign. A university administrator’s welcome address for students becomes a black, disorienting fever dream when Beth and her minions begin to impinge on his consciousness as he speaks (this one is a real keeper – whew). Interestingly, paintings that graphically depict unspeakable acts figure in this book as they do in Nevill’s Last Days and Apartment 16 (also soon to be reviewed here), so I think it’s safe to say scary, thematically-involved art is one of his significant and well-deployed motifs.

But then Dante and Hart, having endured an unimaginable amount of pursuit and terror, come together in the end to dispatch the forces of darkness with mettle and petrol bombs, and it’s just…I don’t know. Probably fine, maybe? Despite the action and gore, it just feels flat and too quick/convenient on the heels of the previous 350 pages’ undeniable, well-wrought quality. If I’m going to find fault this way, then I should also have a remedy, yeah? How should it have ended? No idea. Perhaps I just don’t want it to end, which is why I keep rereading his work? Regardless, I only hope he continues to write at this lofty level. Highly recommended despite my picky misgivings (and it’s his debut novel, for Clive’s sake, so I really should cut him more slack).

The First Five Scorpions Albums (1972-1977)

In “God Part II,” U2’s Bono sings, “I don’t believe in the 60s, the Golden Age of pop/You glorify the past when the future dries up.” This lyric, significantly, appears on a 1988 album that also has covers of 1960s Beatles and Bob Dylan songs, an audio snippet of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, and a sho-nuff duet with Dylan himself, so Bono, confirming the suspicions of millions, was completely full of shit even back then. I bring this up to point out obliquely that I’ve often prided myself on not glorifying the past, especially with regard to music. I always hated those crusty old fucks who grumbled about how music was so much better when they were teenagers and how awful “this shit they’re callin’ ‘music’ nowadays” is. I still hate those guys (they always seem to be male, and by “better music” they usually just mean either the Rolling Stones or Lynyrd Skynyrd). And even though I haven’t bought music by a truly new artist in……hell, I don’t know HOW long, and even though the very concept of “radio” has about as much meaning nowadays as a Sarah Palin blog post, I don’t hector young people on Pavement’s and Billy Bragg’s obvious superiority to Arcade Fire and Ed Sheeran. Most of the music I listen to and even buy is years or decades old, but I just keep quiet about it. “Live in the moment and look forward,” I sometimes say (e.g., just now, when I thought it up).

So imagine what a shock it was two years ago for me to idly revisit one of my oldest favorite bands, The Scorpions, and discover that their earliest output is what feels best to my ears now. I discovered them the same time many Americans did: in February 1984, when MTV aired the debut of their new single and video, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” I was doing homework at the kitchen table when that video came on, and it knocked my goddamn head off. I had never heard anything even remotely that awesome. Within months, I’d bought not only their recent albums (all 80s releases except Lovedrive, which came out in 1979) but also, completionist nerd that I am, ALL of their albums, even the import-only vinyls that cost way too much for a teenager with no job. Back then, these early albums made no sense to me; they mainly didn’t sound metal enough because my ears were too attuned to the ultra-wet guitar sounds and paint-by-numbers song structures of the 80s. But I listened to them all the time anyway because I was a Scorpions fan, Gott in Himmel, and I had to take it all in.

Then I went to college, and my daily exposure to music I’d never heard of helped me set the Scorpions aside, a process that really shifted into overdrive when Soundgarden and Nirvana came along to show how indefensibly silly the Scorpions and other hair-/Sunset-Strip-style metal had always been. After this period of molting, I’d only occasionally check out the Scorpions songs of my youth – “…Hurricane,” “No One Like You,” “The Zoo,” “Arizona,” the instrumental “Coast to Coast” – and grin fondly. But, several years ago, I helped put together a metal cover band called The Tuffskinz, and our searching for material caused me to revisit music I hadn’t checked out in over 20 years: Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Van Halen, the good Metallica. And MAN was this a fun process. In addition to the joy of personally rediscovering some killer music, enough time has elapsed that the people who comprise our crowd treat these songs like classic rock (radio does too, actually), so when we play this stuff live, it gets very, very exciting. However, it didn’t occur to me until recently that I’d never gone back and listened to the early Scorpions stuff I had treated like a middling stepchild in the 80s. So I got on YouTube and started listening.

And holy shit. It was the best kind of rediscovery imaginable because the neural memory still existed, like entering a brand-new world that’s also intimately familiar. I recognized notes, rhythms, riffs, solos, drum fills, sound effects, lyrics, phrasings, and entire songs from nearly 30 years before, but this time, I understood them. Whereas, for instance, the tribal-hippie drumming that starts Lonesome Crow’s “I’m Going Mad” made me think I’d inadvertently bought an album by another, not-at-all-metal Scorpions the first time I heard it, that same drumming now brought to mind “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Moby Dick,” and Santana, and it made me go “Shit yeah.” I must have spent the next six months listening to pretty much nothing but the first five Scorpions albums, and every time I’d try to mix it up with some Animal Magnetism (1981) or Blackout (1982), my ears would yawn. Why the difference? Well, besides general growth, maturity, and evolution, I’ll tell you below.

Lonesome Crow (1972)

Early Scorpions music is weird – Hell, to be honest, ALL Scorpions music is kinda weird mainly because of Klaus Meine’s pinched Teutonic phrasing and nasally delivery: listen, for instance, to the Lovedrive ballad “Holiday,” which Klaus pronounces “HAWL-ee-DAYEEE,” or his chorus exclamations on Love at First Sting’s (1984) “Big City Nights,” which sound for all the world like he’s saying “JEW KEEP ME BURNING!!” (Aha! Revenge on the Germans at last! Kristallnacht this, materfokker!) But the early stuff is weird to the core. Badass album cover notwithstanding, what the hell’s a “lonesome crow”? Look at the sleeve art for Fly to the Rainbow (1974): 
Fly to the Rainbow (1974)

What in THE FUCK is that? Even Uli Jon Roth, their lead guitarist at the time, said of the cover in a 2007 interview, “"Don’t ask me what that cover means…I disliked it from the beginning. It looked ludicrous to me back then and looks just as bad today…As for the meaning, I can only guess, but I’d rather not…’” After Rainbow, the Scorps began their tradition of controversial album covers that sophomorically fetishize the female anatomy, particularly the original artwork for Virgin Killer (1976), which was a naked photo of a prepubescent girl that’s so inappropriate I won’t show it here (the replacement cover appears below). The band, by the way, attempted to dispel criticism of this album’s original artwork by putting a metaphoric spin on the title (“Time is the virgin killer,” etc.). It worked about as well as you’d imagine.

In Trance (1975)

Virgin Killer (1976)

Getting to the music itself, the lyrics of “I’m Going Mad” are all spoken word, and they transcribe phonetically like this:

Walking sroo the desert
Hearin’ all da bells ringin’ from da church da-far-in
That was never there!
Imagine I’m in heffen
But it is a hell
Sun is drying out my brain
And smile-less collections are-uh my pain
I’m goin’ mad…

(Some websites claim to have the actual lyrics, but they look even more spurious to me than this does.)

Several of the songs on Lonesome Crow don’t so much change time signatures as stop completely and start as what sound like wholly different songs. This is especially true of the title track, over 13 minutes of sound effects, Hendrixy noodling, psychedelic grooves, and numerous stops/starts. True to its neon-welder-skateboarder-banner-unroller sleeve art, Fly to the Rainbow is weirder still. The opening track, “Speedy’s Coming,” is faster, more compact, and more typically metallic than anything on Lonesome Crow, but the lyrics are totally bizarre:

Jew look at da postah
Jew look at da wah
Da wah in da room where you live
Where you live with your staaahs

Just listen his records
Now hear what he saize
For he saize "I love you, little girl
Come to see me today"

Speedy's coming
You live in his haaaht…

Jew like Alice Coopuh
Jew like Ringo Staaaah
You like David Bowie and friends
And the Royal Albert Haaaall

And that’s positively normal compared with the next song, “They Need a Million,” which begins with fingerpicked acoustic guitar and hippie-dippie rainbow lyrics but transforms into a frantic Mexican metal-folk song…and then rhythm guitarist Rudolf Schenker starts “singing”:

I feel fine
‘Cos I realize
That I don’t need
The millions they all long for
I feel fine
‘Cos I have eyes
To see my verld
And all its skits on ice

And THAT’S positively normal compared with the next song, “Drifting Sun.” Actually, this song is 100% badass and rocks like a mofo and IS quite normal…until the multitracked guitars float away for a wacky lil’ bridge highlighted once again by Rudy Schenker’s vocals, whose sound you can emulate right now by clenching your jaw shut, constricting your throat muscles, and then attempting to sing nonetheless through a megaphone – that’s EXACTLY what he sounds like, and it’s not even bad or atonal, it’s just so fucking strange that Zappa and Beefheart probably got jealous if they ever heard it. How anyone in any frame of mind could decide to sing like that and then distribute the recording of it will always be a mystery to me. Lastly, the title track is another bizarrum opus, nine-plus minutes of more fingerpicking, awesome riffs, twinned leads, and kooky time shifts. And after the final shift, when things slow down and mellow out, Uli Jon Roth holds forth in a monologue worthy of Nigel Tufnel in full “Stone’enge” mode:

Well, I lived in magic solitude,
Of cloudy looking mountains,
And a lake made out of crystal raindrops.
Roaming through space, ten thousand years ago,
I've seen the giant city of Atlantis,
Sinking into eternal wave of darkness.
Somewhere in the blue distance
Are those long forgotten trees of yore
A broken violin floating alone in December
Darkness everywhere, and nothing more
Symbol, strange symbol, melancholy
Painting torrid colors on a sky of green
Candle breathing one night only
Far away, in chillness, bleak, unseen
Drifting galley, ghostlike shadow
Sails rigged to catch and kill the time
Echoes wandering down an endless meadow
I feel ... sublime

See that “Shhh” in line 7? That’s right – motherfucker shushes us! During the song! Keep in mind this is technically the same band responsible for “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man,” “Another Piece of Meat,” “Don't Make No Promises (Your Body Can't Keep),” and “Tease Me, Please Me” over the next several years. Like I said: weird.

Early Scorpions bassists and drummers ruled – The most well-known Scorpions rhythm section, Francis Buchholz and Herman Rarebell, often exemplified the inanity of 80s-metal rhythm: simple 4/4 beats and riding that root note. Not so of their 70s predecessors. In general, the early bassists and drummers were all over the place in a very good way, playing melodic bass lines and tom-heavy drum fills that simply make for more enjoyable listening. Lothar Heimberg’s jumpy bass on Lonesome Crow’s “In Search of the Peace of Mind” provides a perfect counterpoint to the fingerpicked acoustic guitar, and I’ve already mentioned Wolfgang Dziony’s drum-circlish start to this same album. Fly to the Rainbow features some seriously great drumming from Jürgen Rosenthal; his work on “They Need a Million,” “Drifting Sun,” and especially “This Is My Song” remind me of a weirder, coked-up Mitch Mitchell (in fact, I’m positive Rosenthal was overly familiar with Hendrix's “Fire”). In Trance has at least one stunning moment for each rhythm-section member: Rudy Lenners’s preposterous descending tom fill that opens “Life’s Like a River” and Francis Buchholz’s bass line in “Longing for Fire,” which is so deliciously melodic it could have been written by someone who might be one of three or four readers of this post. Alas, after this album, the bass and drums largely flattened out into templates for Bobby Blotzer and Rudy Sarzo to follow, though Buchholz did manage to churn out a fine, rippling bass line on the dead-serious reggae-metal of Lovedrive’s “Is There Anybody There?” (“reggae-metal.” Let that phrase sink in. See? WEIRD.)

Taken by Force (1977)

Early Scorpions lead guitarists were/are geniuses – Their longtime lead guitarist, Matthias Jabs, first appeared on Lovedrive and is one of the most inventive players I’ve ever heard. I regularly cannot figure out what his lead parts are doing. Even seemingly correct tablature is no help sometimes because he has such singular phrasing. It’s not just that he can play really fast (he can) – it’s that he does so inventively. Check out, e.g., the end of the solo in Blackout’s “Arizona” or the solo and outro in Love at First Sting’s “Coming Home” – I have no idea what he does in these instances to produce the sounds he produces, and I’ve been trying to work them out for 30 years.

Yet Jabs followed in the footsteps of two geniuses – Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth – who now sound like his superiors to me. Schenker (Rudy’s brother) played on Lonesome Crow at the age of 16 and drew comparisons to Hendrix, which is surely ridiculous but also a testament to the brilliance of his playing on this album. His (usually extended) solos are empirically the best thing about each song. After Crow, he left to join UFO, form the Michael Schenker Group, and develop severe addiction problems – severe enough, in fact, that his return to the band for Lovedrive ended abruptly after its release when his erratic behavior pushed Jabs into the role full time (Schenker did contribute several amazing solos to Lovedrive, though, especially the first one on “Coast to Coast”).

      Which brings us to Uli Jon Roth. Along with Richie Blackmore, Roth was one of the earliest “neoclassical” rock/metal guitarists, and while he’s fairly unfamiliar to lay audiences, guitarists speak of him with reverence and awe. And boy does he deserve it. Because, unlike peacocky and assholish Yngwie Malmsteen – arguably the most famous neoclassicist – Roth is diverse. Much of his work on Fly to the Rainbow (his Scorps debut) is a stellar psychedelic blues-metal hybrid with nary a Phrygian mode in earshot. With the following year’s In Trance, he began flirting with classical riffs on “Life’s Like a River” and “Sun in My Hand,” though the latter song has plenty of bluesy grime as well. But on Virgin Killer, Roth started bringing the Paganini in earnest, particularly on album-opener “Pictured Life” (which starts really abruptly, all instruments together, with Roth at the bent apex of a high G), “Catch Your Train,” and sad-sack last track “Yellow Raven,” featuring gorgeously slow and dramatic arpeggios. His classicism peaked on Taken by Force’s “The Sails of Charon,” a song so good it deserves an enumerated list:

1. It’s a reminder that, on their last sort-of weird album before they started copying Van Halen more closely, they could still be weird: Greek mythology, goofy mystical lyrics about “the realm of the black magic man,” a snappy little drum intro that’s almost disco-ish, and one of the silliest music videos ever

2. Its main riff – the one that starts the song – is just fucking awesome.

3. Roth’s solos on this track are legendary in guitar circles, particularly the first one, which is easily the greatest lead break I’ve ever heard. It’s fast, complex (the dreaded whole tone scale), and perfectly placed…and then he plays arguably harder (and doubled!) leads later in the song!

And if his guitar wizardry weren’t enough, Roth also stands out because he’s a damn good songwriter, contributing (or co-contributing) some of the best songs of the early-Scorpions era: “Drifting Sun,” “Life’s Like a River,” “Sun in My Hand,” “Longing for Fire,” “Night Lights” (a lovely instrumental), “Pictured Life,” “Polar Nights,” “The Sails of Charon,” and “Your Light.” If I made a Scorpions playlist for someone, all these songs would be on it.

Man, if you read this far, good on you! Thanks for tolerating all my adverbs!